MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In an initial measurement of job losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida’s March unemployment jumped to 4.3 percent, according to numbers released Friday by the state. The unemployment rate had been 2.8 percent in February, with major job losses beginning in March because of businesses shutting down or scaling back. The national unemployment rate for March was 4.4 percent.

Due to all of the job losses, there is a strong demand for applications for unemployment benefits and the state website is having issues with backlogs and problems with filing applications. In response, Governor Ron DeSantis said hundreds of call-center operators have been rushed through training, paper applications have been made available and more than 100 computer servers have been brought in.

Gov. DeSantis also says payments have been made to 135,000 of the 850,000 people in Florida who have filed jobless claims since the coronavirus started closing businesses across the state.

He said 35,000 checks were mailed last week and said 100,000 checks were mailed this week.

DeSantis said “We need to make sure that people who are displaced get back on their feet.”

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“You know it is hard. It is difficult,” said truck driver Ishosvany Aguila who lost his job on Friday.

“Today, yeah they called me in to the office and they told me about it,” he said. “It was a lot for me.”

Unable to reach the State Department of Economic Opportunity online to file for unemployment benefits, Aguila drove to the John F. Kennedy library branch in Hialeah to fill out an unemployment benefits application and mail it.

It’s been tough for Nicole Nissing as well.

“I have actually been furloughed for a while. I am doing the best I can. I have been trying to get food stamps but it is tough,” she said.

Nissing said she also had trouble requesting benefits online.

“It’s been tough. I have been out of a job for a month now and I am trying to do the best I can. It is super frustrating. It has been very tough to log on. It took me 2 weeks to fill out an application but I thought I would try to get the paperwork myself and do this.”

“It has been super frustrating and very tough to log in,” she said. “It’s not loading properly. It is horrible.”

Governor DeSantis called this the state’s number one economic priority and admits the system is overwhelmed.

“We brought in 100 new servers to deal with capacity,” he explained. “We’re now bringing in a number of people, two thousand people to take calls and we have never been able to do that. In the past we have only had about 30 people around the state doing it. We also set up a new website to get data without delay.”

On Wednesday, DeSantis removed Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson from oversight of the CONNECT unemployment system. He put the system, which cost $77 million to get online in 2013, into the hands of Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter. Part of the reason was an inability of Lawson’s department to provide daily updates on claims and payments.

On Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order that eliminated a requirement for people who qualify for jobless benefits to recertify their claims every two weeks.

DeSantis also said on Friday, “We waived work-search requirements which would have required a week or two looking for jobs. Obviously that is not happening right now. I also waived the prohibition on receiving payments the first week after applying for assistance—that waiting week. I waived the requirement that individuals recertify their unemployment status every two weeks after applying.”

He said “The process will be better” and said there was “more work to do.”

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“Even though I had told them to waive any needless bureaucratic rules, I had to today sign an executive order to suspend the need for people to return to the CONNECT system to recertify their unemployment status,” DeSantis said. “We understand what is going on with the economy now. We hope it’s short term, but clearly this is not something that if you look hard enough you’re going to find a new job.”

Economic analysts are predicting depression-like conditions in the future in Florida.

Unemployment nationwide could hit 20%, the highest level since the depression in the 1930s.

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